The Watchers: Wavers in the Wilderness

DAKOTA FANNING as Mina in New Line Cinema’s and Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy thriller “THE WATCHERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. - credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
DAKOTA FANNING as Mina in New Line Cinema’s and Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy thriller “THE WATCHERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. - credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures /

Adapting a movie from a book is a challenging process. For one, a vast amount of material needs to be condensed for the big screen. The director is also given the difficult task of staying true to the source material while capturing the book’s essence. With Ishana Night Shyamalan’s The Watchers, which is based on A.M. Shine's fictional gothic horror novel of the same name, the outcome is somewhat inconsistent. The director’s feature directorial debut reflects her meticulous attention to detail behind the camera and showcases her promising future as a filmmaker. However, once the film’s third act arrives, much of the mystery and what makes the story appealing in the first place dissipates due to an excessive amount of exposition surrounding the film’s lore. The result is an interesting concept that doesn’t quite transfer effectively to a feature film.

Mina (Dakota Fanning) works at a pet store in West Ireland. One day, her boss asks her to deliver a parrot to the local zoo. While traveling to her destination, she becomes lost in an enigmatic forest inhabited by entities known as the watchers. These monsters emerge at night to observe the behavior of any human unfortunate enough to be trapped in their domain. Mina finds shelter with three other survivors, Ciara (Georgina Campbell), Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), in a house known as the coop. Her newfound friends insist there is no way to make it out of the woods alive, though Mina is determined to find an escape, even if that means breaking a few forest rules.

The Watchers starts off strong, with a gripping forest sequence that instantly plunges viewers into chaos. It’s an effective opening that gives insight into what lies in the mysterious wilderness where the watchers reside, making one eager to learn more. Mina’s introduction also entices viewers from the start, because of her disconnected demeanor and the sadness that lies behind her eyes. Fanning’s restrained performance may not be one of the most memorable of the year, but she does a good job with the material and encapsulates the character's emotionless manner.

Mina is an American expatriate, residing far away from home, who is bored with her life. She is a talented artist who enjoys assuming different personas in public and buys wigs from the local costume shop that she wears to the bar on a whim. Mina casually mentions to her newly acquired parrot that pretending to be someone else is just something that she does sometimes. Our leading lady’s multidimensional personality and apparent flaws build an attachment to the character early on. As a viewer, you wonder what makes her dissociate from her identity and hope for glimpses into her backstory.

Once Mina arrives in the forest, The Watchers effectively builds suspense and tension. Though the woods exhibit a sinister presence, there is something beautiful about the setting. The film impresses with its striking cinematography, and you feel as if you’re walking alongside the characters in real-time as they uncover more information about the origins of the monsters. Time spent with Ciara, Madeline, and Daniel in the coop makes you wonder who Mina may or may not be able to trust, and the unknowns keep curiosity alive. Not revealing what the watchers look like until much later in the narrative is also a smart choice that fosters intrigue. Every noise and movement experienced throughout the wilderness keeps the audience on their toes as they speculate about what might happen next.

However, once the third act arrives, The Watchers falls flat, shifting from a promising narrative full of mystery to heavy-handed lore exposition. Though the backstory of the creatures is explained in great detail, which some viewers may appreciate, the oversharing of information lessens the feature’s impact up until that point. The film’s final stretch also moves at a fast pace, as a wealth of information is flung at the audience. There are also too many conveniently planted plot devices that take viewers out of the story. Take, for example, a secret door that is discovered just in the nick of time. How is it that some of these characters have lived in the coop for five to eight months, yet they didn’t think to do a once-over of the whole place?

Just when you think The Watchers has reached its conclusion, another messy piece of the puzzle is introduced. In fact, by the film’s end, some scenes are borderline cartoonish and equipped with exaggerated dialogue, as the feature attempts to expand on an already overly contrived backstory.

Overall, The Watchers is very hit-and-miss. If you’re a fan of fantasy horror, the film’s absorbing wooded setting and enticing buildup might be enough to make the feature a decent watch. However, what ultimately lets the film down is its reliance on overexplaining the creatures' lore, which detracts from the film’s mystery. 

Rating: 2.5/5

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